Rhetorical Analysis of a Speech
“A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles, and dangers, and pressures…” Senator Edward Kennedy said these words in 1969 on national television while giving his famous Chappaquiddick speech. Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick speech serves as a reminder to everyone that even great leaders have flaws and are capable of making mistakes. On July 18th, 1969, Kennedy drove his car into Poucha Pond on Chappaquiddick Island and left the scene of the accident, which resulted in the death of his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne. After the tragic accident that killed Ms. Kopechne, Kennedy knew he must set things right if he ever wanted the chance to fulfill his future aspirations of becoming the president of the United States. So, he wrote a speech to end the “widely circulated suspicions of immoral conduct” and convince his constituents that he was still the man they voted for. Kennedy’s speech, Address to the People of Massachusetts on Chappaquiddick, effectively swayed public opinion in his favor by reestablishing his credibility, using creative imagery, and repeating certain ideas.
In order to convince his audience that he was still a man of great moral character, it was crucial for Kennedy to reestablish his credibility. He begins by admitting his guilt, “This morning I entered a plea of guilty to the charge of leaving the scene of an accident” (Kennedy). To win back the support of his constituents, Kennedy needed to be honest and straightforward. Taking responsibility for the accident is the first step to gain back the trust of his audience. He also proved that his good character was still intact by not being vague or unclear when sharing his harrowing experience of the night of the accident. He used factual details, such as the exact time and date, to begin his tale. He listed the people who were at the “cook-out” where he and Mary Jo Kopechne were hanging out. He went into great detail about his relationship with Kopechne and why she was there that night. When talking about Mary Jo Kopechne, Kennedy carefully chose thoughtful words to describe her character. “Mary Jo was one of the most devoted members of the staff of Senator Robert Kennedy…she was such a gentle, kind, and idealistic person…” (Kennedy). His style of expression gave the audience the impression that he cared for Mary Jo, despite his delayed call to the police. Kennedy proved to the audience that he was still the Kennedy they knew him to be, compassionate and remorseful.